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Jun 2013
Hey guys. This isn't truly a poem but a paper I wrote for English class. I wanted to share this view with people and this is the only vehicle I knew to use. So here it is. I hope you enjoy it.
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The amplifiers were turned up to ten. The young and fresh crowd looked at us with anticipation.

What were they waiting for? As the music began I noticed the subtle movements and growing tension in

the crowd. Men shook their heads and we shook ours in a violent duet between the crowd and

performer. Women and men flailed their limbs as they awaited the ******. We knew when it was

coming; they did not. When we decided to let it all go I witnessed something crazy! There was a brief

pause in the music and when it began again we kicked it into overdrive. We shook our heads with a

more frantic pace. We jumped about like madmen. The crowd erupted; it became its own entity. You

could feel the heat and power of this new creature. We were locked in a violent psychic-sphere of

crazed young teens and when the ****** was over there seemed to be a sense of relief and happiness

in the crowd. Had my after school hobby become a healing agent, even if only temporary, in society?

This papers purpose is an attempt at piecing together the phenomena of catharsis by merging

philosophy, psychology, history and spirituality.



First, to understand the psychology of catharsis we must think back to the roots of this behavior. Since

human life has existed we’ve formed crowds for various reasons. The first reason held the sole purpose

of protection. Tribes of people, men as hunters and women as gatherers, teamed up for the benefit of

human survival. Erich Fromm says that “the meaning of life is not to be found in its fullest unfolding but

in social service and social duties; that the development, freedom, and happiness of the individual is

subordinate or even irrelevant in comparison to the welfare of the state.”(Fromm, 1947, page 51) This

states that a crowd is actually very necessary to the function of human life. The second reason crowds

gathered was in form of revel, shamanistic healing and worship of deities (Ehrenreich, 30). Men and

woman would often enter trances, speak in tongues and become involved in a collective ecstasy while in

worship of their God. In later years, politics, entertainment and rebellion or protest was a main factor in

the gathering of people (Ehrenreich, 102). People gathered at Festivals that were in the midst of being

suppressed and would dance in mockery of their Kings or leaders.



What exactly is catharsis? Catharsis is a purging of emotional tension brought out in a crowd through

the viewing of a tragedy or tragic play. In the article “The Power of Catharsis” Kearny says the following

More specifically he (Aristotle) defined

the function of catharsis as 'purgation of pity and fear'. This comes

about, he explains, whenever the dramatic imitation of certain actions

arouses pity and fear in order to provide an outlet for pity and fear.

The recounting of experience through the formal medium of plot,

fiction or spectacle permits us to repeat the past forward so to speak.

And this very act of creative repetition allows for a certain kind of

pleasure or release. In the play of narrative re-creation we are invited

to revisit our lives — through the actions and personas of others — so

as to live them otherwise. We discover a way to give a future to

the past. (Kearny 1)

I figure that, even though he states that it is a purgation of pity and fear, it could also be involved with

many other suppressed emotions. Take my introduction for example. These kids were not releasing

pity and fear, they were releasing their angst! They were releasing their desire for competition.

They were making up for the violent feelings of agression they felt in their body that had been

suppressed by society for so long! They were revolting! Could catharsis also be used to purge other

emotions as well such as ****** suppression or communicative issues?





How would one come about actually attempting this catharsis that I speak of? We need to first look at

some ways in which people have controlled crowds in the past and realize that crowds form by

themselves but often look for leadership due to what Nietzche called that “herd mentality.”

In the article “Seducing the Crowd” by Urs Staheli it mentions that repetition is a key factor in beginning

to control the crowd. (Staheli, 69) This means that through repetition you can get the crowd to side with

your beliefs. The crowd could begin to think about what your suggesting and potentially be swayed by

the other people that are now following your ideas. It could also be repetition of body movements as

well. What better vehicle is there to sway a crowd than music? It’s repetitive in instrumental and lyrical

form!



Another way to “******” a crowd is to act like a madman! Specifically how I stumbled upon this in

the first phenomena place.

The leader himself is possessed and hypnotized by the ideas

and visions he holds, obsessed to such an extent that he cannot rationally exercise

control over the crowd. Instead, he devotes himself to fascinating the

crowd by more ecstatic means.8 He often resembles a madman but fascinates

by the mere power of his determination. What distinguishes the leader from

the rest of the crowd is his will alone, not any particular intellectual capacity

or a superior morality. (Staheli, 68)

The theory is that through mythological story telling or acting tragically and in a spectacle, we can

actually release negative emotions and potentially even heal neuroses or psychic ailments. Later in the

article he goes on to say that a shaman was actually documented to have cured a woman with a blocked

birth canal and in labor by telling her a story about a warrior trying to exit a cave that had monsters on

the outside trying to get in.

The function of a shaman is to heal his tribe. He uses drugs or plants to change his state of mind and

then by going over to the other side of reality he invokes spirits that help to heal.

In the séance, the shaman led. A sensuous panic, deliberately evoked through drugs, chants,

dancing, hurls the shaman into trance. Changed voice; convulsive movement. He acts like a

madman. These professional hysterics, chosen precisely for their psychotic leaning, were once

esteemed. They mediated between man and spirit world. Their mental travels formed the crux

of the religious life of the tribe. (Morrison 1967 pg. 71)

This shows an ecstatic crowd dancing and chanting while one man acts out a tragic spectacle. Through

this spectacle the shaman acts like a madman. This causes wild emotions within the crowd and allows it

to release their built up and suppressed emotions. Also, the dance and chants bring them to a feeling of

unity and oneness!



One may not believe in the spiritual shaman because of their own beliefs about God and religion. Some

may not believe in the other world that parallels our own.  It is a skeptical concept without a doubt and

there are probably many people who disagree with the legitimacy of the shaman. Is there a way that we

could think of the phenomena in a psychological sense rather than strictly spiritual? The answer lies in

Carl Jung’s theory of the unconscious mind and dream therapy as well as in Nietzche’s philosophy on art

and aesthetics.  



Carl Jung believed that there is a conscious mind and an unconscious mind. The conscious mind is the

everyday mind that occurs in waking life. It is rational and helps us survive. The unconscious mind can

be found in dreams or whenever you experience a déjà vu (Jung 1964 21).  He also believed that through

the study of dreams you could heal certain aspects of your psyche that have been altered by neuroses.

Symbols and archetypes make up dreams and the unconscious, and often you will find that archetypes

appear in the form  of people. Jung believes that through living in society that men and women have lost

touch with their feminine or masculine characteristics depending on their gender. Dreams can help us

get back into union with these lost roles through connecting us with our anima(female) or animus

(male) through symbols in our dreams or unconscious minds. Jung wrote that when society was

formed people took on roles and caused a dissociation in their psyche and caused a duality rather

than a unity when they suppressed one side of their mind.  He mentioned that at all times the

unconscious mind is connecting us on a psychic level.



How does this tie into shamans and catharsis? It seems like something completely different all together

right? My theory is that the shaman or crowd leader brings forth a forgotten union of the masculine and

feminine forces in the universe. Nietzche believed that there are two polar forces that are natural in this

world and in art. These forces are given the names of deities in his book “The Birth of Tragedy.”

The first is the Apollonian force that is masculine. This force in art governs form and dreams. The

Apollonian artist directly takes ideas from his dreams and brings them to life whether it is in form

sculpture or poetry. Apollo appears through an oracle often in tragedy or in visions of the waking life.

The second force is the Dionysian which is feminine. This force governs intoxication, revel and ecstasy.

Dionysian artists are improvisers and dancers and are usually tragic figures. Nietzche believed there are

three different types of artists: Apollonian, Dionysian and the fusion of both (Nietzche 1872 14). This

latter artist is what I believe the shaman is.



Through connecting these polarizing forces he fixes the psychic neuroses in his own mind. He becomes

a unified artist, or a magician of duality. The shaman, as stated above, takes drugs to intoxicate himself.

Often the drug of choice is wine or alcohol though it could be hallucinogenic drugs as well. This tied with

repetitive revel is the Dionysian side of the spectrum and also helps draw the crowd’s attention through

spectacle and repetition. Everybody is ecstatic and experiencing the collective vibrations of the crowd.

Through his intoxication he is able to go into the unconscious mind and produce dream symbols in

reality! The crowd follows the leader into this unconscious mind and brings back forgotten wisdom of

mythology and archetypes. This is the Apollonian side of the spectrum because it deals with the

unconscious mind and dream images. It also could be this “other world” that traditional shamans speak

of. Now the psychic duality is merged and a tie is formed between the masculine and feminine forces of

nature! People feel at one with themselves and the crowd and the societal suppression is vanished

briefly. All the neuroses caused by the suppression fades away in the ecstatic revel. This is the appeal of

the rock concert. Notice how many leading figures of rock bands have androgynous features and

shamanistic nature. This is because they have fixed the psychic neuroses in their own mind and become

at peace with the masculine and feminine duality of their psyche.



Stumbling upon this phenomena in my rebellious youth was very eye opening. Ever since I have been  

very excited about this theory and I’ve been trying to piece it together. It seems to be coming along

further and further in my study of this. What exactly this ancient wisdom is; I don’t entirely know. I

do know that I have witnessed this in reality and the subject is interesting and fascinating. My theory

still has a lot of work before it is completed but I think that within this article I’ve given a decent

amount of history about the topic as well as my own thoughts. Whether this phenomena is true or

not, we can leave that up to the psychologists and philosophers to decide, though I think many may

agree. Either way, catharsis surely does exist and it is a fun way of entertainment as well as a

therapeutic option for many stressed out individuals out there
Cory Ellis
Written by
Cory Ellis  Prince Edward Island
(Prince Edward Island)   
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